“When Hashem your G-d will expand your territory as He swore to your forefathers, and gives you the entire land which He promised to give your forefathers; when you keep this entire commandment that I am commanding you today to fulfill it – to love Hashem your G-d and to follow in His ways always – then you shall add for yourself another three cities to these three” (Deuteronomy 19:8-9).
This passage is describing how at some future time, we will add an additional three cities of refuge to the three already established in the land of Israel proper (19:1-3), where those who kill unintentionally can flee from relatives of the victim intent on seeking revenge.
Maimonides (Rambam) maintains that these three new cities will be added in the Messianic age (Laws of Kings 11:1).
Does this make any sense? In the future Messianic utopia, there won’t be much killing going on. We might anticipate doing away with the Cities of Refuge altogether, or perhaps eliminating a few of them. But why will we need additional ones?
We encounter a similar problem with the Torah reading for the afternoon of Yom Kippur, which deals with the prohibited sexual relationships found in Leviticus chapter 18.
Yom Kippur comes at the end of the Ten Days of Repentance that begins with Rosh HaShanah (the Jewish New Year). And this period is preceded by the month of Elul – 30 days spent preparing for the High Holidays. The afternoon of Yom Kippur is the high point of these 40 days of intense spiritual work. Do we really need to hear at this elevated moment that we are not allowed to have relations with our parents, siblings or barnyard animals?
So, on the holiest day of the year, why do we need to be warned about incest and bestiality and why the need for additional Cities of Refuge during the Messianic Age?
These are both essentially the same problem. After 40 days of inner work and reaching lofty levels of spiritual growth on Yom Kippur, we shouldn’t need to be warned about doing things we wouldn’t consider doing on the worst of our days during the rest of the year. And in the Messianic Age where the world is living on the highest levels we certainly won’t need more Cities of Refuge for additional murders that will be taking place.
What we are dealing with in both situations is the problem of how to maintain ourselves once we’ve reached the high ground. They always show in movies someone on the ledge of a tall building hearing everyone scream, “Don’t look down!” In the physical realm this is true. If you are on a high level and are concerned about not falling down – don’t look down!
But in the spiritual realm, when you have climbed very high, the great danger is becoming complacent and thinking that you’ll be there forever. You might begin to believe all your own good press and think that you have arrived and that all your old demons have vanished forever. When the concern is maintaining the high level that has been reached, it can be very helpful to look down! Realize that there are no magical ropes holding you in place up there, and that unless you are very vigilant, you could end up doing some pretty horrible things.
Chodesh Tov – A gut Chodesh / Shabbat Shalom – Gut Shabbos
By Rabbi Michael Skobac
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